Texas Republicans Are Sewing Extremism Into the Fabric Of Their Party

Texas Republicans over the weekend wove a tapestry of extremism.

At its Houston convention Saturday, the state GOP put forth a party platform that calls to “abolish abortion,” attacks homosexuality as an “abnormal lifestyle choice,” and formally rejects Joe Biden’s victory over Donald Trump in the 2020 election. It also rebukes Republican senators—including Texas conservative John Cornyn, who was booed as he spoke at the event — who took part in gun reform negotiations with Democrats in the wake of last month’s Uvalde elementary school massacre. It is a thoroughly radical doctrine, the kind that previous incarnations of the party might have softened up a bit, if for no other reason than to avoid turning off voters not already part of the base. But the party outright dismissed an effort by some of its delegates to do just that, underscoring not only how far to the right the GOP is continuing to move, but how brazen it has become in doing so.

“Donald Trump radicalized the party and accelerated the demands from the base,” Brandon Rottinghaus, a political scientist at the University of Houston, told the Texas Tribune. “There simply aren’t limits now on what the base might ask for.”

The GOP has never exactly been a big tent party. But it used to try to convince voters it was — and occasionally even aspired to be one, at least for the sake of its own survival. “It is time to smartly change course, modernize the Party, and learn once again how to appeal to more people, including those who share some but not all of our conservative principles,” the Republican National Committee wrote in an autopsy of Mitt Romney’s loss in the 2012 election. “Our standard should not be universal purity; it should be a more welcoming conservatism.” 

But Trump’s upset win in 2016 taught them that, rather than running away from their extremism, they could run on it. Indeed, the GOP establishment a decade ago worried that culture war grievance was cold water dampening their electoral prospects; Trump showed them it was actually kerosene that could be ignited to fire up the base. And, at the GOP convention in Texas over the weekend, there was no shortage of kindling to keep that blaze going.

During the three-day event, Texas Republicans administered a right-wing purity test that even some of the most conservative lawmakers in Washington could not pass: Cornyn faced jeers for taking part in gun control talks with Democrats, even as he bragged that he had used his seat at the negotiating table to scuttle Biden’s “gun-grabbing wish list.” Republican Congressman Dan Crenshaw, a former Navy SEAL who lost an eye in combat, was physically confronted by convention-goers, including apparent Proud Boys, who mocked him as “Eye Patch McCain” — a nickname apparently originated by Fox News’ Tucker Carlson. “Dan Crenshaw is a traitor!” one of the hecklers shouted at him during the incident, which was captured on video. “He needs to be hung for treason!”

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